Wenger gets it right and oh so wrong on ‘tapping up’

Let there be no mistake ‘tapping up’ in professional football existed long before the Football Association set down its absurd rules banning the practice; governance that is unworkable, impractical and utterly pointless in a globalised football market. Yet, Arsène Wenger once again called for the FA to amend its framework, with Arsenal’s Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas under the gaze of predatory rivals this summer.

Indeed, asked if he believes the pair has been tapped up this summer Wenger called on the rules to be reviewed. It is not the first time the 61-year-old manager has cried foul over more successful, financially dominant rivals chasing Arsenal’s players.

That the north London club has successfully pillaged Barcelona’s academy for Fabregas, Fran Mérida, Jon Toral, and Hector Bellerin in recent seasons is not without its irony of course. Wenger’s inconsistency has always been defined only by its consistency.

“I would like to return the question to you,” quipped the Frenchman.

“What do you think? We live in a realistic world. I do not want to assess what I cannot prove. I know how things happen. It doesn’t necessarily go through the player or the agent but I think it is a rule that has to be reviewed. It’s not really respected.”

Yet the Frenchman’s apparent hypocrisy is moot; Wenger is right that the rules on tapping up need reformation but utterly wrong that the FA needs to strengthen an outmoded philosophy. After all the rules not only patronise players but are a restriction of trade made worthless by contract law. Indeed, as Wenger has made clear this summer Arsenal need not sell Fabregas nor Nasri as each remains under contract with the Londoners until the club is prepared to release their registrations.

But legal protection proffered under contract law is made irrelevant, so say critics, because of player power, a mythical universal force that means clubs must put economics before everything else. In that Wenger’s intransigence this summer is to be admired, even if the Frenchman’s faux horror at Barcelona’s pursuit of Fabregas returns us to that word hypocrisy once again.

The need for reformation of the tapping up regulations – or, preferably, removing them entirely – is more relevant still given the globalised nature of the football market. After all, players are little more than an asset traded, not solely between clubs, but third parties and non-affiliated training academies too. These organisations, such as Desportivo Brasil with whom Manchester United has an agreement, are little more than farms for the manufacturer and export of youthful football talent.

In that context the ban on tapping up makes sense as a protectionist measure only for those institutions that are unwilling to sell but cannot retain players by any normal means, such as money, silverware, or a feel-good-factor. Arsenal, then.

This argument is moot in any case. The one successful prosecution by the FA in recent memory – that of Ashley Cole and Chelsea – was made a mockery by Arsenal’s willingness to sell the player shortly thereafter. As if Wenger delights more not in success but in the moral superiority that the former Monaco coach so often basks in.

Then there is the very real truth in Wenger’s comments – clubs need not confer directly with players that they wish to sign when football is an industry over-populated with agents, middle-men and brokers. Perhaps Wenger would prefer the phones of every licensed – or otherwise – agent tapped to ensure that his want-away players never again hear of an interested outside party.

Have Nasri and Fabregas been “tapped up” in any normal definition? Absolutely yes. Does it matter a jot? Not at all.

Of course Manchester United cried foul in 2007, reporting Real Madrid to FIFA over the Spanish giant’s incessant pursuit of Cristiano Ronaldo. Even then United relented a year later when Madrid returned with a world-record transfer bid for the Portuguese forward. Once again economics trumped the moral high-ground that Sir Alex Ferguson had claimed.

Ferguson though is ever the pragmatist. The Scot’s apparent angry promise that he would not “sell that mob a virus” hid the gentleman’s agreement that Ronaldo would eventually be allowed to leave. All that mattered at that moment was the price.

“You don’t want to [keep unhappy players] really,” said Ferguson yesterday when asked about Nasri and Fabregas.

“Cristiano Ronaldo was never unhappy at United, but he always had a thing about playing for Real Madrid and I believed him. We did well to have him for six years and getting that final year was a bonus because he was disheartened the previous summer. It could have affected him at the time, but we did well to keep him for an extra year and we got top money for him. But it’s usually the foreign players who want to get back to their nest.”

In that there is some truth where Fabregas is concerned, with the 24-year-old Catalan desperate to return ‘home’. Nasri has no intention of returning to Marseille of course as the midfielder plots a lucrative move north to Manchester City.

And there’s the rub: no FA regulation can compete with a £200,000-a-week offer. It is the same principal, if not the absolute salary, that has attracted so many youthful player’s to Arsenal from Catalonia in recent years.

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Comments

  1. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    I’ve no problem with Fabregas wanting to go back to Barca, or Barcas’ desire to get him… what pisses me off is their indignant bickering that they should have to pay what he’s worth.
    Everyone wants to get a bargain, but Arsenal value him at £40mill, and going by current trends, he’s well worth that much… even Cruyff thinks so, who also blasted Barca for their lack of respect.
    But Barcelona seem to think that they can ram this deal home on their terms, just because… that’s what THEY want.

    “Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don’t need badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges, you god-damned cabrón and ching’ tu madre! Come out from that shit-hole of yours. I have to speak to you.”

  2. Hans says

    Fabregas and Nasri are under contract. These youthful players a la Fabregas and Fran Mérida, Jon Toral, and Hector Bellerin were not under contract with any club. There is a huge difference legally. It cannot be compared with Xavi and Evra are doing with players under contract who are still running.

    • says

      Hans – I think you confuse my argument. I’m saying there’s no problem with tapping up. It’s an outdated mode of thought. There may be a huge difference legal between Merida et al and other transfers but there’s certainly no ‘law’ preventing anybody speaking about somebody who is under contract. Arsenal doesn’t have to break the contract of any of their players. End of. The rest is simply Wenger bleating to the press and blowing smoke up the fans’ arses. Moan about Barcelona, Manchester City, while not providing any silverware…

  3. Exo says

    Arsenal never tapped up the players from Barcelona. We went directly to Barcelona and made a formal offer. Arsene never got Wilshere and Ramsey to say “we would love Torral and Bellerin to come to Arsenal” because we have class and Barca do not, it’s as simple as that

    • says

      Exo – and was Barcelona happy with the players joining? Absolutely not.. in fact the club has complained incessantly but cannot do anything because they’re obliged to offer a professional contract later than in England.

  4. John Brandon says

    Article has identified the core of the problem and ignored it at the same time simply enjoying having a cut at Wenger. The key word in the article is dominant – there is a polarisation of wealth in football and perhaps the long moored super euro league is the only solution if things are allowed continue.
    In the US the draft system keeps financial dominance from translating into predictable champions year in year out – in addition a total ban on overt tapping up and public comment aimed at destabilising players and clubs is enforced relentlessly.
    The chances of an ordinary club winging the league is relegated to playstation and unless you get a sugar daddy to pour endless finances into your club success is rare and unlikely.
    If this is what people want then fair enough – but if genuine competition is what is wanted then some curbs on financial muscle and overt tapping up has to be dealt with. It’s not that long since Utd were at the receiving end from Mardid over Ronaldo and they did not like it at the time.

  5. jrock says

    Cracking down on “tapping-up”, as Wenger defines it, can easily be done…just follow the example of one of the most popular leagues in the world: the National Basketball Association (NBA).

    According to NBA regulations, “If a member of your organization is asked by the media about a potential free agent prior to the July 1 following the last season covered by the player’s contract, or about any other person under contract with another NBA team, the only proper response is to decline comment.”

    “Penalties for tampering include suspension of the offending person, prohibition of the offending team from hiring the person being tampered with, forfeiture of draft picks, and individual and/or team fines of up to $5 million.”

    If these rules were instituted, Barca and Man U would be held accountable for Xavi and Evra’s comments.

  6. Geoff says

    In no other industry (outside sport) in the world are ‘staff’ acquired for massive fees and tied to such long contracts. Players should know what they’re worth and they should also earn that money. They’re happy enough to sign for 5 years at 40k a week, but when they hear that someone may offer 80k they want to cut their losses.

    On the other side of the coin, clubs do treat players like assets

    I think we should cut the winter transfer window. Make everyone (including managers) stay August to May, no sackings, no resignations. Everyone put their money where their mouth is. Plan ahead and put faith in people.

  7. MickeyLdn says

    A well constructed and eloquently put argument that is only flawed by the prevalence of misinformed opinion touted as facts. Arsene Wenger simply called for the laws to be reviewed as it is ‘not respected’ there was no such allegation against either united or city. the fact that you cited SAF’s (official) complaints strikes me as inconsistent and wholly hypocritical. Barcelona’s pursuit of Fabregas has been significantly more overt and by all intents and purposes disrespectful. Any writer paying due diligence in his research would never so confidently draw comparisons between the fabregas saga and the signings of Merida, Bellerin or any other player. Teams like United and Barcelona operate under the assumption that transfers should be dictated by the might of silverware and finances smaller teams should be obliged to a cower and acquiesce to their demands, the day that becomes the norm football dies forever!..i wouldnt support a league full of Michael Owens and Ashley Cole’s not even by accident

    • says

      MickeyLdn – who said there was an “allegation against either United or City” – certainly not me. So seems that my “misinformed opinion touted as facts” is simply your imagination. On the rest – I don’t see why the comparison isn’t valid. Arsenal attracts youth players from abroad (just as United has done) with a significantly earlier and larger first professional contract. Money talks, even at Arsenal. Football died a long time ago if that’s the barrometer.

  8. manc says

    I’m a united fan but i have a soft spot for arsenal because my brother is a gooner. To be fair, wenger doesn’t “tap up” these barca kids. He just signs them before they’re allowed to sign a professional contract in spain. I say that’s bloody clever, it’s not his fault that spain’s law allows him to do this and the kids choose to sign with him, they’re not held at gun point to sign with arsenal. Now, with 2 of his best players expected to leave in cesc and nasri. I understand all gooners frustration when every newspaper is publishing stories about them leaving and barca players talking about cesc’s DNA. That’s absolutely disrespectful especially when these players are under contract. If barca really wanted cesc, they’d cough up the money and shut up. Nasri’s situation is kinda different. If arsene doesn’t wanna sell him (which is stupid since he can leave for free next year), it doesn’t do when mancini is saying he wants to sign the player by the end of july. They shoud just wait (just like us) and sign the player on a bosman next year.

  9. MickeyLdn says

    Ed you are just as sanctimonious as you claim wenger is. in all your criticism of wenger you cannot find a single nuance of his transfer dealings that SAF has not either mirrored or done before.
    why have you dodged references to the cristiano ronaldo affair.. were United happily celebrating their disgustingly undignified behaviour in the media.. i highly doubt it. Why is tapping up not an issue now that it is obvious united can be accused of it. You will earn far more credibility as a journalist and or blogger by simply commenting impartially and not allowing your judgement to be clouded by what is clearly a distain for AW.
    by the way your article subtly suggests that the Arsenal faithful are accusing City and United of tapping up. You refer to wengers sudden interest in tapping up as a response to interests in fabregas and Nasri. Not all players are dictated by your ‘money talks’ assertion. If that was the case would not Van Persie and Rooney be playing at different clubs?

    • says

      MickeyLdn – I’ve read your comment four times and I still can’t decipher what your actual point is, aside from your need to defend your club in some way. I’m certainly not apologising for Ferguson – I clearly point out the inconsistency of his statements on Ronaldo, and going to FIFA was simply a ruse to keep the Ronaldo fee high and not acquiess like the club had done over Beckham. But since you’re not able to see that point through your Gooner-tinted specs its a bit hard having a debate with you. Perhaps you are confusing me with the club’s stance – they are not the same thing.

      On tapping up – I’ve written on here previously about how pointless I see the rules as being. That’s got nothing to do with Nasri, on whom United is the only club to have lodged a bid through official channels.

      And no money doesn’t dictate the actions of all players but when relatively low wages are combined with no silverware at Arsenal what do you expect? You can cry foul over tapping up but get real – its a market and Arsenal are small fish these days.

  10. reddread says

    Has someone been deleting posts here? This thread is somewhat disjointed.

    I will say, though, MickeyLdn, that if you’re familiar with this blog, you’ll know that Ed is no Fergie apologist, and is happy to see faults in him. I’m too tired to post further on this, especially on me phone, but may well try to contribute tomorrow. There’s something to look forward to, eh?

  11. Nick says

    Hey Ed, is everybody in Manchester so cavalier about contract law? Fabregas signed a contract extension, for more salaryt and another bonus. Why should he be applauded for wanting to breach his promises, for which he has been handsomely paid?

    Kind of like you buying a computer on credit, then not wanting to pay, but wanting to keep the computer.

    As for your financial nus, its a bit shameful for United supporters to hail and applaud bullies. You guys have a team owned by a country with trillions in oil dollars across town. So long as you applaud their actions, you are guaranteeing that United will go down, sooner than a financially well-run club like Arsenal.

    • says

      Nick – oh please what a load of nonsense. Fabregas isn’t breaching his contract. Not even close to it. Is he refusing to play? No. Has he unilaterally walked away from the contract? No. Has he ripped it up, handed in his notice and joined another employer? No. Now cut out the hyperbole. In football there is a contract and a registration, neither can be unilaterally changed and Arsenal must agree to both before a transfer goes ahead. Which pretty much negates your point about bullying.

  12. shauno says

    Ed are you going to post anything on SAF latest comments? Looks like it’s the end of our transfers?

  13. captainhormonecaptainhormone says

    Arsene Wengers problem is that he is an hypocritical cunt…he moans about players being tapped up, he moans about players values, he moans about his players being fouled, he moans about refereeing decisions….

    HE JUST FUCKING MOANS!!

    He is manager of a side that is now being marginalised by the competition due to his own inadequacies as a manager, and yet he expects his players to be loyal?

    Man up Arsene, and stop being a victim all the time!!

    Top 6 at best next season if cesc and nasri go…

  14. says

    Well spoken Captain & Sidney. An excellent provocative article Ed. Let’s be clear about one issue. The view held by some that M. Wenger is an impartial, intelligent witness is crap.He is far more prejudiced, biggoted & myopic than even SAF & he always choses the view that suits him at the time; a man of very little principle who always claims the moral high ground. Most of the “old pros” have sussed him out; they would prefer ten SAFs to one AW.

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